Unfortunately, Phil has a slew of cartoonist and graphic designer friends. It’s because he’s a cartoonist and graphic designer and so it can’t be helped. Like all creatives, they are an odd bunch. On discovering Phil was losing a leg, one cartoonist suggested he begin cultivating a pirate look and should perhaps lose an eye as well, or at least a hand. Another thought he should ask to keep the leg, which might be mummified and hung in the living room as a mobile. A conversation starter, for sure. “Eew,” I said. “Well, then,” this friend compromised, “how about keeping the bone?”
A graphic designer raised the idea of having a funeral for the leg. You know, as a way of processing the loss. I pointed out that Santa Anna did have a funeral for his, with cannon salvos, poetry, and burial beneath a monument, but Santa Anna was the Mexican president at the time. I don’t think we have the army to pull that off. Phil proclaimed, “there will be no services for this leg: this leg and I have a long and miserable history. It has caused me no end of pain.” “Oh, I see,” said the graphic designer, “you’re divorcing it.”
At first, there was this huge splint and dressing and limited mobility and I had to do everything. He was forbidden to do stairs, was mostly confined to the wheelchair. Our bedroom’s up 16 narrow steps with a turn and the first nights I felt as abandoned as if he’d left me. In the wheelchair, he couldn’t reach into the pantry or fridge, or get to the sink. For nearly two weeks, everything he ate depended on me.
But now sutures and staples and unwieldy dressing are gone. He takes his own seated shower. We’re in the shrinker sock stage, the incision healing nicely. Phil hops around in the walker all the time, goes in and out of the house and last week I caught him fixing his own lunch. Nourishment unauthorized and undelivered by me. Wait a minute.
Certainly taking care of an invalid gets old, but total control is addictive. I find myself a bit put out by his being able to get his own food again. Likewise the idea of his moving back upstairs. I’ve become accustomed to having my own bathroom. Look how neat it is now, and roomy, with all the shaving gear and other guy stuff gone downstairs. For his part, Phil likes the moveable hospital bed, and has taken to sleeping with both head and foot of the thing raised, creating a kind of hammock. Nor is he unhappy with having the TV at the foot of his bed. (TV in the bedroom is where I draw the line. Not happening.)
Six weeks out from surgery, although the stairs are a major effort he has to do on his butt, he has been up and down them without much trouble. He’s been cast for the first temporary prosthesis, so a new phase is coming in two weeks. We’re both wearying of separate accommodations and the bed in the living room, yearning for a return to normal.
This life-changing event is far from over. Three words: phantom limb pain. Because I’m not experiencing it, I tend to think, “but that’s not real.” Pain, however, is pain. And the brain, the nerves, have known there’s a left foot and ankle all these years and aren’t about to surrender the concept now. Neural pathways insist on creating virulent sensations, perhaps in angry frustration at not finding the limb they bonded with all those years ago. Phil says things like, “my unfoot is in a vice and someone’s drilling into its big toe,” or “pins and needles are jabbing into my unankle.” The pain, my friends, is real, and relief through narcotic prescriptions is sporadic at best. For most people, phantom limb pain fades in time, a year or so. Pray that Phil’s brain is among the fast learners.
In the meantime, however, to answer a few repeated questions: no, he will not be taller. He could not run marathons before and will not run them now. An artificial left leg does not magically change the length or character of the right leg or its owner. And, for the moment, he’s going to pass on the pirate schtick.